Apple unveils groundbreaking accessibility features to empower users with disabilities

May 18, 2023  12:16

Apple has announced a range of innovative software features aimed at enhancing accessibility for individuals with cognitive, vision, hearing, and mobility disabilities. These updates, which leverage advancements in hardware and software, exemplify Apple's unwavering dedication to creating products that cater to the needs of all users while safeguarding their privacy.

Working closely with community groups representing diverse disability communities, Apple has developed these accessibility features to have a meaningful impact on people's lives. Scheduled for release later this year, these updates will empower users with cognitive disabilities, nonspeaking individuals, and those at risk of losing their ability to speak.

Assistive Access

The forthcoming Assistive Access feature will enable users with cognitive disabilities to navigate their iPhones and iPads with increased ease and independence. By distilling apps and experiences to their core functionalities, Assistive Access helps reduce cognitive load. Informed by feedback from individuals with cognitive disabilities and their trusted supporters, this feature focuses on essential activities such as connecting with loved ones, capturing and enjoying photos, and listening to music.

Assistive Access will include a customized experience for Phone and FaceTime, which have been integrated into a single Calls app. Additionally, Messages, Camera, Photos, and Music will be optimized for accessibility. The feature will offer a distinct interface with high contrast buttons and large text labels. Trusted supporters will have the tools to tailor the experience to meet the individual's specific needs. Messages, for instance, will include an emoji-only keyboard and the ability to record video messages for users who prefer visual communication. Users will also have a choice between a grid-based or row-based layout for their Home Screen and apps.

Live Speech and Personal Voice

Live Speech and Personal Voice are two new features that will significantly advance speech accessibility. Personal Voice provides a secure and simple way for individuals at risk of losing their ability to speak to create a voice that sounds like their own. Through on-device machine learning, users can record 15 minutes of audio on their iPhone or iPad by reading along with randomized text prompts. This personalized voice integrates seamlessly with Live Speech, enabling users to communicate with loved ones using their own synthesized voice.

Detection Mode

Magnifier's Detection Mode introduces Point and Speak, a feature designed to aid users who are blind or have low vision. Point and Speak utilizes the camera, LiDAR Scanner, and on-device machine learning to identify and read out the text on physical objects such as household appliances. By moving their finger across the keypad, users can effortlessly interact with objects that have multiple text labels. Point and Speak, which is integrated into the Magnifier app on iPhone and iPad, works seamlessly with VoiceOver and can be combined with other Magnifier features to enhance users' navigation in their physical environment.

Additional Features

In addition to the aforementioned features, Apple has introduced several other accessibility updates. Deaf or hard-of-hearing users can now directly pair Made for iPhone hearing devices with Mac computers and customize them for optimal comfort. Voice Control now offers phonetic suggestions for text editing, enabling users who rely on voice input to select the correct word from similar-sounding options. Furthermore, Voice Control Guide provides valuable tips and tricks for utilizing voice commands as an alternative to touch and typing across iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

For users with low vision, Text Size is now easier to adjust across Mac apps such as Finder, Messages, Mail, Calendar, and Notes. Users who are sensitive to rapid animations can automatically pause images with moving elements, such as GIFs, in Messages and Safari.

For VoiceOver users, Siri voices sound natural and expressive even at high rates of speech feedback; users can also customize the rate at which Siri speaks to them, with options ranging from 0.8x to 2x.

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